Shoals of mud
Robin Waterfield (1952- ) is a British classical scholar who now lives in Greece. He has translated the works of a number of the early Greek writers(b), including Herodotus, Plutarch as well as Plato. In 2008 he produced a new translation of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias(a).
Andrew Gregory who wrote the Introduction to Waterfield’s translation rejects the possible existence of Atlantis saying “There is no sunken city in the place he indicates, nor is there any geological remnant (volcanoes, shallow muddy parts of the Atlantic), although there are shoals just beyond the Strait of Gibraltar.”
Chedomille Mijatovich (1842-1932) was a Serbian politician, economist and historian. He was one of the first in modern times to suggest that the Sargasso Sea may have been the maritime hazard described by Plato as a ‘shoal of mud’, which resulted from the submergence of Atlantis. This idea was conveyed to and recorded by Hyde Clarke(a).
Jennifer Coelho-Teeluck is a Canadian researcher who proposed the isthmus of Central America as the location of Atlantis. In a paper presented to the 2008 Atlantis Conference in Athens she equated Plato’s “shoals of mud” with the narrow neck of land where Panama is. She speculates further that a global catastrophe around 10,000 BC led to the destruction of Atlantis and led to the dispersal of survivors north and southward. Elsewhere(a) she links this catastrophe to the theory of Charles Hapgood, which postulates the movement of the outer crust by a number of degrees.
Sea-Level Changes. Recent years have seen the production of ever more detailed data relating to sea-level changes following the last Ice Age. In 2006 researchers discovered that the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska was created around 9000 BC, a thousand years earlier than previously thought.
Such changes could have had a direct bearing on the Atlantis mystery, particularly if Plato’s assertion that its inundation took place in 9600 BC is true, as this would place the event at the end of the last Ice Age and the melting of the glaciers with the consequent raising of the level of the oceans. Although we are usually given the impression that this deglaciation progressed steadily it would appear that in reality the process continued at different rates and was at times temporarily reversed.
Recent studies(f) have clearly indicated that aboriginal Australians have preserved memories of the rising sea level at the end of the last Ice Age.
A 2000 report(c) from Dr Robert Baker and Professor Peter G.Flood from the University of New England in New South Wales, suggests that 4,000 years ago sea levels “may have been up to two metres higher than at present and that sea levels have risen and fallen like a roller coaster over the last 6,000 years.” I would expect that sea levels two metres higher around 2000 BC would have left archaeological evidence on a global scale. Until that is forthcoming, I would treat this claim with caution.
Dr Robert Haworth who worked with Dr Baker endorsed the conclusions of Baker and Flood(k). A few years later Haworth found further evidence of higher temperatures and sea levels in the Sydney area 6,000 years ago(l).
Estimates of the total change in sea levels vary between 300 and 500 ft. The most recent studies have estimated the rate of sea-level rise at an average of one metre per century punctuated by occasionally increased rates of 2.5 metres per century(a). To complicate the picture further, many areas in northern latitudes that had been depressed by the weight of the enormous ice sheets of the last Ice Age, rose considerably as a result of isostatic rebound when the glaciers melted.
There is general agreement that the raising of the sea-levels had dramatic consequences worldwide. Vast landmasses, such as Sundaland, the Celtic Shelf, and the Caribbean were totally or partially submerged, leaving many of today’s islands as remnants. Communities that had flourished in these regions during the last Ice Age must have been devastated which naturally led to the generation of myths recalling their former glory. Atlantis is assumed to be one such legend with a firm basis in reality.
Other, more controversial effects have also been proposed, such as the breaching of a landbridge that had existed between Spain and North Africa at Gibraltar and/or a similar isthmus between Sicily and Tunisia. James Bramwell reports that in the 1930s geologists spoke freely of the breaching of a Gibraltar dam around 15,000 years ago. More recently, writers such as Joseph S. Ellul, Sergio Frau and Paulino Zamarro have convincingly based their Atlantis theories on this concept. The Mediterranean sea level is discussed elsewhere.
Other writers have proposed an asteroidal or cometary impact as the cause of catastrophic flooding, but such inundations would have receded fairly rapidly. In the end, we are left with the ending of the last Ice Age as the primary cause of profound changes in the topography of our planet that probably included the submergence of one civilisation that we now refer to as Atlantis.
However, Plato introduces another detail into his Atlantis narrative, namely that following the submergence of Atlantis, it created a maritime hazard in the form of shoals. Plato wrote that “wherefore also the ocean at that spot has now become impassable and unsearchable, being blocked up by the shoal of mud which the island created as it settled down.” (Timaeus 25d). The implication of this is that the shoals still existed in either Solon’s or Plato’s lifetime. We must also keep in mind that the draft of ships, such as triremes, at that time was about a metre. The attached chart shows how between 5000 BC and the present, the rate of sea level has been relatively slow. Even allowing for any local seismic, tectonic or isostatic activity I would interpret the data to suggest two important facts; first, the flooding of Atlantis could not have taken place before 5000 BC and still be a hazard in the first millennium BC and secondly if it occurred after 5000 BC Atlantis must be still in shallow water.
Kurt Lambeck has demonstrated from a study of Roman fish pens that the sea level along the Italian coast, 2000 years ago, was 1.35 metres below today’s levels. His investigations also included a study of land elevations along the coast that may have been affected by seismic or tectonic processes and found that they had raised the land by 1.22 metres, indicating that global sea levels had risen by just 13cm over the past two millennia, most of which has occurred over the past century(d)! Lambeck’s conclusions have been severely criticised by Izabol Apulia(e).
Professor Nicholas Flemming of the University of Southampton has written extensively on the subject of sea-level changes , particularly in the Mediterranean(h). A more localised study of sea-level changes around Malta during the Holocene has been produced by an Italian team led by Stefan Furlani(i).
Furthermore, if the destruction took place before 5000 BC then either Solon or Plato concocted the description of the shoals, which would have no purpose whatsoever!
Sea level changes in the Gulf of Mexico are discussed in an online pdf file(b). In the same region, there is now claimed to be evidence(g) confirming that sea levels were lower during the last Ice Age and that the Yucatan Peninsula was very much larger.
A June 2021 report(j) concluded that Israeli sea levels rose at a relatively fast rate of 2 – 2.5 metres within 200 years between the Hellenistic and Roman periods. I am not aware of any corroboration from other sites in the region, so, lacking any such evidence, I am forced to conclude that this is more likely to have been the consequence of localised seismic activity rather than a more general rise in sea levels. On the other hand, seismic events are usually instant and not spread over centuries! Further investigation is required.
(e) See: Archive 2566
(k) Atlantis Rising magazine # 22 p11
Diodorus Siculus (c. 90-21 BC) was born in Agyrium, Sicily. He travelled extensively through Europe and Asia gathering information that was to be incorporated in his Bibliotheca Historica, a work of forty books divided into three parts. Unfortunately, only the first five books are extant(a). He quotes extensively from an earlier historian Skytobrachion. Nevertheless in this remnant of his work we find Diodorus making a number of references to Atlantis.
He calls the land bordered by the Atlantic and surrounded by the Atlas Mountains, ‘Atlantis’, which would be modern Morocco. Diodorus tells how a great king there, renowned as an astrologer, called Atlas, named the whole region and the sea after himself. Diodorus writes that following the death of the Titan, Hyperion, the world was divided among the sons of Uranus. Accordingly, Cronus and Atlas were given the regions on the coast of Oceanus (Atlantic). A mountain was called after Atlas and the local inhabitants named Atlantioi.
What is strange here is that according to Greek myth, Atlas is noted as the son of Iapetus, yet Plato has Atlas as the son of Poseidon. This divergence between Diodorus and Plato would seem to indicate that Diodorus was NOT depending on Plato for details of his Atlantis story. Plato did not refer to an astrologer and gives a different lineage for Atlas.
Diodorus claims that the people of Atlantis had no knowledge of the fruits of Ceres the Roman goddess of plant growth. This appears to suggest that the Atlanteans did not have cereals and consequently no bread or brewing! It may be worth noting that American Indians also lacked any knowledge of cereals.
He also writes about the Amazons, a warlike tribe ruled by women, from North Africa, where they lived on an island in ancient Lake Tritonis. He relates how this lake disappeared when earthquakes created a breach to the Mediterranean. This latter point may have particular relevance to atlantologists who identify the Tunisian coastal region as the location of Atlantis.
Diodorus gives details of a war fought by the Amazons against the Atlantioi, which they won. He also relates how the Phoenicians discovered in the Atlantic, an island of great wealth and beauty (Book V) and that this island was found by accident when they were carried by the Atlantic currents to its shores. This could not have been Atlantis as the island was discovered long after it was supposed to have been submerged, leaving just shoals of mud.
Pharos in the Nile Delta has been suggested by R. McQuillen as the location of Atlantis. It should be noted that the cities of Canopus and Herakleion in the same area were submerged, apparently due to liquefaction(h), following an earthquake between 731 and 743 BC. If something similar occurred to Atlantis situated at Pharos it might explain the shoals of mud reported by Plato and may even have been the reason for the erection of the famous lighthouse there, completed around 280 BC.
This lighthouse at Pharos took 20 years to build and is reported to have been as much as 450 feet in height, topped with a statue of Poseidon (or Zeus). It is claimed that there was also a furnace on top which, according to Robert Temple , suggested that some form of mirror reflected light out to sea. There is evidence from writers as early as Homer that nocturnal sea travel was commonplace in ancient times(d), so some system of beacons to assist this, would have been a natural development.
Themistocles (524-459 BC) is traditionally credited with having established the first Greek lighthouse at Athens’ port, Piraeus, in the 5th century BC, which was a column with a beacon on top.
The coining of ‘pharology’ as a term to describe the study of lighthouses is generally credited to the British hydrographer John Purdy (1773-1843).
In a study of ancient lighthouses (pharology) by Ken Trethewey(a), now a retired marine engineer, he indicates that there were probably precursors to the Alexandrian edifice, but that there is no archaeological evidence to support this contention. Just as New York’s Empire State Building could not have been built without the preceding decades of evolution of building methods, similarly, the magnificent Pharos lighthouse must have had forerunners.
Another suggestion is that altars, temples and latterly Christian churches frequently situated at the end of promontories may have functioned initially as navigational aids, keeping in mind that early Mediterranean seafarers preferred coastal hugging to open sea travel. I would think it strange if such locations were not used for beacons.
A book review by Terrance M.P. Duggan draws attention to the use of the word ‘pharos’ as far back as Homer’s time, centuries before the Alexandrine structure was built(c). Duggan has also noted in an extensive study of ancient beacons(d) how “sailing at night was practiced in antiquity, first by the Phoenicians” and that “later, sailing at night is mentioned repeatedly by Homer in the Odyssey.” It must be obvious that such regular nocturnal travel could not have been achieved without the availability of some system of warning beacons.
Duggan also notes the use of false beacons such as in the story of “Palamedes’s father, the King of Naupilus or Euboea, then lit a series of false beacons leading to the shipwreck off Euboea of much of the Achaean fleet returning from the Trojan War, using false maritime navigational beacons to serve as a wrecker’s device, and with the use of these false navigational beacons quite clearly indicating the presence at this date of considerable numbers of genuine navigational beacons along coastlines to provide an expected navigational guide for ships sailing through the night.“
What I also found interesting was another quote by Duggan of a passage from Al-Mas’udi, circa 947 AD – “At the point where the Mediterranean Sea joins the Atlantic Ocean, there is a lighthouse of stone and copper (bronze), built by the giant Hercules (probably to be associated with the location of the Phoenician Temple of Melkart-Herakles on the North African side). It is covered with inscriptions and statues whose hand gestures proclaim to those coming from the Mediterranean who wish to enter the Atlantic Ocean, ‘There is no way beyond me’” This is a clear association of Heracles with a lighthouse and raises the question of whether this was a more widespread occurrence, which seems possible.
At the other end of the Mediterranean, the Colossus of Rhodes is also thought by some(g) to have functioned as a lighthouse, but at the very least was a daytime navigational marker, Heracles was also worshipped on the island as the founder of its first settlement.
The Tower of Hercules is an ancient Roman lighthouse on a peninsula about 2.4 km (1.5 mi) from the centre of the town of A Coruña, Galicia, in north-western Spain. There is also a claim that a Roman lighthouse existed at Akko (Acre), now in northern Israel, which is discussed elsewhere and supported by numismatic and archaeological evidence(i).
Massimo Rapisarda & Marcello Ranieri have now published a paper(f) pointing to possible land-based navigational aids, most likely, Phoenician, at the Sicilian promontory of Capo Gallo. They also refer to “the renowned Phoenician ability to navigate at night.”
Trethewey, a leading pharologist, published Ancient Lighthouses  in 2018. Furthermore, he has also published a series of eight lengthy papers on pharology on the academia.edu website(e).
>The prolific Dr. Uday Dokras in his work on the lighthouse at Alexandria wrote that it “was certainly not the first such aid to ancient mariners but it was probably the first monumental one. Thasos, the north Aegean island, for example, was known to have had a tower-lighthouse in the Archaic period, and beacons and landmarks were widely used by cities to help sailors across the Mediterranean. Ancient lighthouses were built primarily as navigational aids for where a harbour was located rather than as a warning of hazardous shallows or submerged rocks, although, because of the dangerous waters of Alexandria’s harbour, the Pharos performed both functions.” (l)<
Other papers by Marco Vigano also investigate the subject of proto-lighthouses(b)(j), furthermore, a book review by Terrance M.P. Duggan, draws attention to the use of the word ‘pharos’ as far back as Homer’s time, centuries before the Alexandrine structure was built(c). Duggan has also written a paper on The Missing Navigational Markers(d).
A recent book, The Electric Mirror on the Pharos Lighthouse, edited by Larry Brian Radka, argues spiritedly for the use of electricity at Pharos!
Robert Graves suggested a number of locations as having Atlantean connections. Included in that list is Pharos(k).